Lianne La Havas’ Blood follows the Mercury-Prize nominated debut Is Your Love Big Enough?, one of the most exciting singer-songwriter debuts in the last two years. With Unstoppable, the opener and first single of the album, La Havas gave us a taste of things to come, pointing towards the kind of production which continues throughout the album. The rich string arrangements sit behind La Havas’ soaring voice in this beautiful, epic start.
It is the perfect way to kick things off, and La Havas continues to nail the sequencing of the album. Unstoppable is followed by a feel-good duo of Green and Gold and What You Don’t Do, the latter showing-off the album’s catchiest chorus, and La Havas’ versatility as a songwriter in being able to pen subtle, more pensive tracks as well as dancefloor hits. From here we drift into a more tranquil place with Tokyo, as the combination of the guitar part, a funk bass line and the echoing backing vocals create a sound which emulates the lyrical influence of Tokyo. Wonderful is more stripped back still, as gentle clicks keep time behind a thin string arrangement and soft piano. La Havas keeps along this path of stripping back after the more full opening, On Ghost, we see something a lot more similar to the quieter moments of La Havas’ debut, with harmonic guitar flicks the only backing behind her vocals, which sets us up for a killer one-two combo to finish things off. Firstly, the darker, buzzing electric guitars of Never Get Enough show offa completely new sound for La Havas, and an interesting progression from the song’s acoustic opening. As the album closes, Good Goodbye mirrors Unstoppable, in that it is a natural album finale, as the string arrangements return to their fullest.
To accompany the development and diversity in sound, La Havas shows the same qualities in her lyrical content. As is suggested by the album title, thoughts of heritage and the past are central – “those eyes you gave to me, let me see where I come from” she sings on Green and Gold, while elsewhere the inescapable nature of the past is brought up on Ghost. Notjust heritage, but a sense of worldliness in general is evident throughout the album, Tokyo being an obvious example of the influence of place, but it is clearly a theme at the forefront of her mind throughout Blood, as she sings on the final track “every time you blink, you miss a piece of this wondrous world”. Of course, she is still able to write about relationships as she did on her first album, both in feel-good moments such as What You Don’t Do and times of struggle. She also manages to show off an ability with swift-rhyming wordplay on Wonderful’s refrain – “you can trip flick a switch negative break the circuit between us”. Just as you would hope for from any artist on their sophomore effort, La Havas’ lyrical maturity mirrors the growth in her sound.
In fact, for fans of La Havas, Blood ticks every box in what you’d want from the second album. She has found a new way to back-up another set of fantastic vocal performances, with luscious strings and a fantastic sound to the percussion providing the highlights of Blood’s instrumentation. Sound-wise, it is a noticeable development, without completely casting off an ostensibly ‘Lianne La Havas’ approach. The songwriting is strong once again, but seems even more well-rounded, hall-mark of an artist with more experience under her belt. La Havas is definitely an artist currently on an upward-trajectory, and she faces a real challenge in maintaining it given where she has set the bar now. Through its frequent but natural shifts in mood, another collection of quality songs, and La Havas’ vocals as strong as ever, Blood is one of the strongest albums by a singer-songwriter this year.